There are many, many different microphones from countless manufactures to choose from these days, but most fall into these basic categories:
- Dynamic mics
- Condenser mics
- Ribbon mics
DYNAMIC MICROPHONES Popular models include: Shure SM 57 and SM 58, Sennheiser 421, Electrovoice RE20
Dynamic Mic Advantages:
- less expensive.
- do not require phantom power.
- sturdier, can handle louder SPLs, drops and mishaps
- they pick up less room sound and bleed from other instruments.
Dynamic Mic Disadvantages:
- smaller frequency range than condenser or ribbons mics.
CONDENSER MICROPHONES Companies making popular models include Neumann, Audio Technica, Rode and AKG.
Condenser Mic Advantages:
- more sensitive with greater frequency response than dynamic mics.
- Many come with switchable "patterns" ie; cardiod, omni directional and bi-directional.
Condenser Mic Disadvantages:
- require phantom power.
- more fragile.
- more expensive.
- more bleed from surrounding room and other live sources.
Condenser Mic Patterns
- Cardiod-picks up sound best that is coming from directly in front the mic. Good choice to minimize room noise or room "size", and to reject sound coming from other sources.
- Bidirectional or "Figure 8" pattern-picks up sound equally well from front and rear. This pattern has a natural sound adding some "air" to the recording while not picking up the entire room. Sometimes a good choice for recording 2 sources on either side of the mic.
- Omni-picks up sound equally in all directions. The omni pattern minimizes phase differences caused by directional patterns. Can sound very natural as room mics or source mics in good sounding rooms.
RIBBON MICS Ribbon Mics are bi directional, meaning they pickup sound equally well from the front and rear of the mic, which is a big part of their "natural sound". Companies making popular models include AEA, Royer, and Beyer.
Ribbon Mic Advantages:
- can really sound "special", "natural".
Ribbon Mic Disadvantages:
- sensitive and fragile, some can be damaged by applying phantom power
- may sound "darker" than condensers or dynamic mics, which may put off some singers.
- Sounds from the rear will be added to sounds from the front.
CONSIDERATIONS WHEN CHOOSING A MICROPHONE TO RECORD A SOURCE You want the biggest, fullest frequency range track you can get? Large diaphragm mics deliver. On vocals and acoustic instruments of any kind. The models with multiple pattern choices (like the AKG 414) can be very versatile and a great all around mic. You have a reasonable sounding room and you want a very "natural" sound? Try a ribbon mic. How good does the recording room sound? If the sound of the actual room is ringy or unpleasant, use less sensitive dynamic mics and place them close to the source. How loud is the source going to be? If the source is loud, you may opt for a less sensitive dynamic mic. Softer instruments may benefit from condensers or ribbon mics. How may instruments will be playing at the same time? If you have several instruments playing at the same time and are looking to minimize bleed between the sources, opt for the less sensitive dynamic microphones for close up mic'ing. Consider omni patterns or a ribbon mic to serve as "room" mics. How many instruments will be in the final mix? If there are only going to be few instrument in the final mix, the more sensitive condenser mics with their wider frequency range will help to fill things out, particularly on vocals and acoustic instruments.
- Choosing the best mic for any given situation is a matter of trade offs.
- Condenser mics have a wide frequency response but pick up other instruments and room noise.
- Dynamic mics have a smaller frequency response but are sturdy, cheap and handle loud sources well.
- Ribbon mics sound natural, but are a bit darker than the others and are fragile and expensive.
PS. The inexpensive dynamic mic is often your best choice in less than desirable recording spaces or in situations where you want some isolation. They pick up the most important frequencies and can often survive drops and mishandling!